BROSSARD, Que. – P.K. Subban’s confidence is high despite the plague of injuries that has descended on the Montreal Canadiens.
The flashy defenceman’s team will be without its captain Brian Gionta as well as forwards Brandon Prust and Ryan White, and may be missing starting goaltender Carey Price, as they try to stave off elimination by the Ottawa Senators at the Bell Centre.
“We can beat these guys. We’re better,” Subban said Wednesday.
The Canadiens look to have outplayed Ottawa in three of the four opening games, but the Senators have used Craig Anderson’s goalkeeping and some timely scoring to take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven NHL Eastern Conference quarter-final.
Game 5 is set for Thursday night, and Montreal’s hopes may lean on backup goalie Peter Budaj, who let in a Kyle Turris goal in overtime of Game 4 in Ottawa on Tuesday night after Price appeared to suffer a groin injury late in regulation time.
Price is listed as day to day with a lower body injury.
Gionta is out for the season with a torn biceps tendon in his left arm, while coach Michel Therrien said Prust and White have upper body injuries.
The Canadiens were already missing centre Lars Eller, who suffered a concussion and facial injuries from a hit by Eric Gryba in the series opener. Eller skated on his own Wednesday, but no date has been set for his return.
The injuries leave a patchwork lineup for a team that feels it could just as easily be up 3-1 in the series.
They took 50 shots at Anderson in Game 1 and lost 4-2. Then they won Game 2 clearly, but were blown out 6-1 in Game 3 in Ottawa.
On Tuesday, Montreal led 2-0 going into the third period, but played defensively in the final 20 minutes and saw the lead slip away on a goal off Mika Zibanejad’s skate and the equalizer in a frantic last-minute scrum by Cory Conacher. Price looked to be hurt on the play as he sprawled in the crease.
Turris won it on a high shot 2:32 into OT that Budaj said he should have stopped.
Despite the setbacks, Subban is not throwing in the towel.
“Guys are going to realize when we’re coming out the gates and we’re flying that we’re the better team and there’s still life in this series for us,” he said. “But it takes the guys in this room to believe that.
“It’s a situation now where all the pressure’s on (the Senators). They’re up 3-1. They want to end this thing but they’ve got to beat us first, so good luck to them. We’ve been outshooting them every game. We’ve got good goaltending no matter who is in the net. So I wish them the best of luck.”
Montreal will be looking for more from top players like Subban and veterans like Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty, as well as the continued energetic play from youngsters Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher.
They hope to force a Game 6 Saturday in Ottawa and Game 7 back home on Sunday night.
The Canadiens look back to 2010, when they were down 3-1 to the Washington Capitals in the opening round and ended up winning. They knocked off Pittsburgh in the second round after trailing 2-1 and 3-2 before falling to Philadelphia in the conference final.
Backup goalie Jaroslav Halak was the hero of that playoff run as a very young Price played himself onto the bench.
Budaj did better than Price in limited appearances this season. He posted an 8-1-1 record with a 2.29 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage while Price was 21-13-4 with a 2.59 average and .905 save percentage, although his numbers took a beating in a late-season slump.
It helps that Budaj started the final regular-season game in Toronto and has not been inactive for long.
“I did everything I could to keep myself mentally and physically sharp,” said Budaj, who will be backup up by Czech compatriot Robert Mayer if he plays. “We’ll see what the situation is with Carey and if I have to go in.”
He said he was ready when called on to play in overtime and took full blame for the game-winning goal, which looked to glance off defenceman Raphael Diaz.
“I did not see the puck well,” he said. “It had nothing to do with Rafa.
“I don’t know if it touched Rafa or not. I definitely think I could have played it a little better. I misplayed it a bit. It kind of went through me. But there’s nothing I can do about it now.”
Losing Gionta, the team’s pint-sized leader, was a blow.
The 34-year-old missed 51 games last season with a torn biceps muscle in his right arm, and now needs surgery for the same injury in the other arm. He is to go under the knife on Friday and should be ready for the start of training camp next season.
He said the injury occurred in the second period of Game 1 when he got caught up with an opponent along the boards, twisted the arm and heard the tendon go “pop.”
He had it taped and returned for Game 3, but wasn’t able to play again.
“It’s tough,” said coach Michel Therrien. “My captain was crying in my arms. These players have more courage than people think.”
“It’s discouraging,” said Gionta. “Not too many people have had (that injury) and it happens in back to back years.
“It’s definitely hard to deal with.”
Now he’ll be cheering on his teammates as they try to stay alive in a series that has gone mostly Ottawa’s way so far.
“The series isn’t over,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of guys in this room that can still pull this off.”